In 2022, China announced the pre-permitting or permitting of a staggering 42% more coal power plant capacity than the previous year. As of January 2023, just over 250,000 megawatts were scheduled to be built, up from around 176,000 in 2021.
Meanwhile, the capacity of coal power plants under construction in China increased by 29%, from around 89,500 megawatts to around 115,500 megawatts, according to the Global Energy Monitor.
While China has been known to develop renewables and coal power simultaneously to meet its growing energy demand, the country’s net-zero emissions goal for 2060 had many anticipating a shift away from coal power construction.
However, a recent report by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air and the Global Energy Monitor suggests that issues with peak-time energy supply in the past two years, linked to heatwaves and air conditioning use, drove the surge in permitting.
The report notes that China’s power sector’s emissions might not necessarily become more carbon-intensive overall, as this depends on the simultaneous growth of renewables. However, it warns that the high number of new coal power plant projects will make achieving China’s climate goals more “complicated and costly.”
Compared to other countries constructing new coal power plants on a large scale, China has by far the most significant projects. Other nations’ construction plans have either increased slowly in capacity over the past year or even declined significantly.
India’s capacity in pre-construction was up by 10%, while Indonesia’s was down by more than a third. Bangladesh’s picture is similar, and Vietnam’s pre-construction capacity was down by as much as 94%.
The report also criticizes the location of many new coal power plants in China’s South and East regions, which already have significant coal power capacity and insufficient renewable energy development. For instance, 13 coal power stations are listed as announced for the Shanghai region, and another 16 are expected to come to Northeastern Jilin province.
The construction of coal power plants is heavily focused on Asia, with some also taking place in Southeastern Europe (mostly in Turkey) and Eastern Africa.
Only six coal power plants are listed as in pre-construction or construction on the American continent, including five projects planned in Brazil’s southernmost state, Rio Grande Do Sul, and one under construction in Southern Argentina.